By Bob Paslay
Clayton County's school system was completely removed from probation because of two reasons - the quality of the superintendent and the progress made by the school board, the head of the accrediting agency said Tuesday.
Mark Elgart, chief executive officer for the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, said Superintendent Barbara Pulliam provided "effective leadership" and the board provided "appropriate and effective governance."
"Those were the two main reasons" that counted to SACS's 28-member board which unanimously voted Friday to remove the warning status for the district, returning it to full accreditation for the first time in two years.
A year ago, after the school system hired Pulliam as its leader and began training from the Georgia School Boards Association in its role and the proper way to conduct business, the probation was changed to "warning status." This meant SACS would continue to monitor the progress of the district and make a final decision a year later.
Elgart said Tuesday that was the proper decision because the district had made progress but had not achieved the goals SACS believes it should achieve.
Probation was imposed on the 55,000-student district after the school board at its first meeting in 2002 fired the superintendent and started a year of controversy. That year included charges of board members meddling in the day-to-day operations of the district, running out-of-control board meetings that drew packed crowds that booed and shouted. Those actions drew calls for some board members to resign. They did not, but voters defeated some incumbents and some chose not to run so that now only three of the nine original board members still remain.
Elgart said 14 school systems over the years have been placed on probation but it is impossible to rank how dysfunctional Clayton County schools were at the time of the probation because "each situation had unique qualities."
"The primary difference today is Clayton County has a unified and aligned school system whereas when they were placed n probation they were a school district defined in conflict," Elgart said.
"Two factors, the quality of the superintendent and the representatives on the board, set the tone for the quality of the school district," Elgart said.
The superintendent is especially important, Elgart said. "They're the educational leader and as such have a responsibility to help everyone perform their roles effectively and appropriately."
If Clayton County had not made progress and SACS had removed accreditation the seniors could have faced the loss of its HOPE scholarships and teachers applying to other districts from a non-accredited district could have had trouble getting another job.
School Board Chairwoman Ericka Davis said earlier the credit for getting off probation goes to a number of people, including the board members, superintendent, staff and the citizens for pushing for reform, She said special thanks go out to the teachers and other school employees who stuck with the district during the time of probation.